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I posted about crowd sourced engineering last week and have had another thought on that topic. Last week’s post focused on projects where the team was made up of individuals from the crowd. However there is a different kind of crowd sourced engineering model that has been around for a while, the competition, where the crowd is made up of teams.
I think one of my favorite engineering competitions was the Netflix user recommendation system optimization competition. It was supposed to leverage the ideas of thousands of scientists to increase the user experience of its customers. It’s my favorite because it made a lot of sense to me at the time and should have been easy to implement. Unfortunately, the Forbes article above talks about how incorrect that perception was in so much as NetFlix never implemented the winning solution. I still have an optimistic expectation that NetFlix still earned enough value from the competition to make the expense of it worth it.
My next favorite competition family are the X prizes; Ansari X Prize, Archon X Prize, Automotive X Prize, Google Lunar X Prize, Tricorder X PRIZE. These prizes have definitely forced people to imagine new things and challenge the limit of current thinking. However, if you look at just the Ansari X Prize you see that the first and last commercial human space flight took place in Sept 2004. Outside of Dennis Tito via the Russians there have been zero commercial space flights in almost a decade. Based on this single experience you can easily argue that competitions can only serve to improve an industry and not one single team. Need to see if future X-Prize competitions bear more fruit.
I have found many other examples of professional and government level competitions that follow the same lifecycle; team competes, team wins, winner tries to commercialize success and ……. crickets while the industry grows.
One bright spot is the spinoff type businesses that leverage some of the advancements developed to achieve the full competitions goal. High school and collegiate level competitions appear to do this quite a bit. One good example is the number of businesses that have been created in and around the student robotics competition known as FIRST. FIRST robotics teams across the country have created over 50 businesses ranging from machine shops to circuit board suppliers to prosthetic limb companies. One such business sprung from team 357 out of Upper Darby Pennsylvania who started fabrication business for specialty robotics parts.
All in all I think this form of crowd sourced engineering will be more productive at both completing the goal and creating business when compared to the ones I discussed last week. I will be watching to see if my predictions are correct.